Clayton faces a school shift

The Johnston system may alter school times to use fewer buses, but short notice annoys parents

Staff WriterAugust 7, 2007 

A plan to transport students using fewer buses could alter Johnston County school hours, beginning in Clayton this year.

Superintendent Anthony Parker said the proposal could save the district about $1.1 million on 16 new school buses.

Under the plan, Clayton-area school buses would run three routes each morning and afternoon, instead of two, Deputy Superintendent Ed Croom said. To do so, the district would stagger bell schedules further apart. Currently, most area high schools and middle schools operate between about 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., and most elementary schools run from about 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The new hours are still being tweaked, Croom said Monday, but could be approximately:

* 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. for high schools.

* 7:50 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. for middle schools.

* 8:40 a.m. to 3:40 p.m. for elementary schools.

Parker began talking to principals about possible changes last week, proposing an elementary schools start time of about 9 a.m. A few principals shared the information with some parents.

School board member Donna White said she was immediately flooded with e-mail and calls from upset parents. Some voiced concern about kindergartners getting off buses after dark. Others expressed worry about having to scramble to find early day care.

"What's really bothered most parents is the extremely short notice," said Lea Boumenot, chair of the East Clayton Elementary advisory board.

White said she fears an increase in dropout rates among high school students.

"It's alarming to the school board," White added, "for this kind of notice to be given to the public without our awareness and input."

If approved at the school board's Aug. 14 meeting, the changes would take effect on the first day of school, Aug. 27. It would affect seven schools: Clayton High, Clayton Middle, Riverwood Middle, Cooper Elementary, East Clayton Elementary, West Clayton Elementary and Riverwood Elementary. The plan would likely roll-out to the Cleveland area the next year, and the rest of the county the following year, Croom said. Other high-growth school systems such as Wake County already have three-tiered bus routes.

Parker said although county commissioners earmarked money for new buses, he has no choice but to make cuts somewhere. The district faces a $2 million gap between what it needs and current funding, he said.

Jerry Smith, principal of Clayton High School, said he sees some advantages to the proposed change, such as student athletes missing less school for early meets or tournaments. But it will be a race, he said, to adjust staffing and school lunches to the new schedule.

If the changes stick, Smith said he hopes to add a fifth period next semester for students with their own transportation who want to sleep in and start school later.

Staff writer Peggy Lim can be reached at 836-5799 or peggy.lim@newsobserver.com.

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